Skywards, gently
Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

You walk through the world's biggest mall, with the world's biggest indoor aquarium to get to the entrance of the world's tallest building.

Welcome to a big day out in Dubai.

"Yes, the biggest shopping mall in the world," Shirley Kay, who is showing me around, announces with a flourish of the hand.

"Are you sure?"

"Why, certainly." He looks shocked by the question. This is Dubai, after all, and, despite the effects of the global financial crisis, this United Arab Emirates city is still coming up with a stream of world's biggest, newest, best.

"Just testing."

Shirley, who guides visitors around for Emirates airline offshoot Arabian Adventures, smiles and offers a clincher: "And it has the world's biggest dancing fountain. The Dubai Fountain. It dances like 100,000 belly dancers."

The fountain is set in the Burj Lake, outside the mall, and sprays up to 152.4m in the air.

Just for the record, the Dubai Mall, with more than 1200 stores, has been recognised as the biggest shopping centre in the world by The Guinness Book of Records.

But none of these are what we are here for.

We are here to visit the world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa, which is 828m from the tip of its spire to the ground.

Even if you are not the sort of person impressed by "biggest and best", I would suggest that a visit to Burj Khalifa is one of the best $32 (100,000 dirhams) you can spend in Dubai ($24, or 75,000 dirhams, for children). The tower is open 10am to 10pm every day except Thursday and Saturday, when it is open until midnight (last tickets are sold 45 minutes before closing time).

But before we go up one of Burj Khalifa's 57 elevators, let me first describe coming towards the tower, for I think the silver spire is both beautiful and dramatic - sort-of space rocket dream meets stainless -steel sewing needle.

From a distance, I find it a little difficult to understand the building's scale, for it rises, completely in context with its surroundings and perfectly balanced.

It has more than 200 storeys and, as Waseem Khan, senior marketing executive of Burj Khalifa explains, it is not only the tallest building in the world, but the first to have such a diverse mix of uses.

The bottom floors are used for the 160 rooms of Armani Hotel Dubai, and Armani Residences. Above that there is a mix of residences and offices.

What is potent about a visit to the tower is the way its story is told. This is done in the grand tradition of Arabian storytelling - gently, dramatically, with no sense of it being forced, but of it unfolding.

In the main entrance room there is a model of the building, with digital display panels delivering background and facts. One clever screen has a globe which you can spin to investigate other tall buildings. Another panel has a big "iTouch" type screen with other towers' details.

And then, as you stand on a travelator through a long, dark tunnel, video and sound sets the scene, with dabs of history mixed with technology.

The way technology is used to tell the story is worth seeing, and it is worth understanding that there is more than a construction story being told:

> There are the statistics: Excavation began in 2004 and the building was completed in 2009. It took 1200 workers to build and they used 28,601 glass panels. The building, empty, weighs 500,000 tonnes and is designed to withstand winds of up to 198km/h. From the top of the building, you can see 95km on a clear day.

> There is the philosophical: "The word impossible is not in the leaders' dictionaries. No matter how big the challenges, strong faith, determination and resolve will overcome them," says a statement from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, displayed on the wall.

> There is the inspirational: "I am the power that lifts the world's head proudly skywards, surpassing limits and expectations. Rising gracefully from the desert and honouring the city with a new glow, I am an extraordinary union of engineering and art, with every detail carefully considered and beautifully crafted.

"I am the life force of collected aspirations and the aesthetic union of many cultures. I stimulate dreams, stir emotions and awaken creativity.

"I am the magnet that attracts the wide-eyed tourist, eagerly catching their postcard moment, the centre of the world's finest shopping, dining and entertainment and home for the world's elite.

"I am the heart of the city and its people; the marker that defines Emaar's (the builder) ambition and Dubai's shining dream.

"More than just a moment in time, I define moments for future generations. I am Burj Khalifa."

We walk past abstract panels showing design aspects, with images of people and nature integrated. The panels in themselves are treasures.

And then it takes just 60 seconds for the lift to rise the 400m to the 124th floor, travelling at up to 10m per second. But very gently so, and with lights and music in the light used to good masking and calming effect. There is no sensation of speed.

And then, there you are, overlooking this dusty, desert city - this somewhat odd dream under construction. Dubai.

From the looping roads to the skyscrapers, from Arabian Gulf to the desert beyond, it is a spectacle.

I feel lost in the romance of the height, the beauty of the building, the dusty air and the spire sparking sun off it, the artworks and technology, the story.

But Waseem Khan brings me back down to earth. He has one more world-first statement to put on the record. "It is, you see the world's first true vertical city."

Of course.


>> For Burj Khalifa tours, see
>> For the Dubai Mall, see

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